What does it take to create a comic book simple enough for a child to understand, but profound enough to spark change in that child's life?
What does it take to put a brand new comic book like that in the hands of every Alongsider mentor each month?
Truly, a significant amount of thought and work goes into each comic. Here's the process...
Step 1: The Topic Meeting
A comic book lesson begins life in a Topic Meeting with members of the Curriculum Development Team.
Team leader, Hitomi Gray, and her assistant, Puthida Bou, undertake the preliminary research: gathering background information, considering how the topic normally plays out culturally and counter-culturally in Cambodia, and prayerfully considering relevant Bible themes, stories or verses.
All this background data is brought to the Topic Meeting for prayer and further brainstorming with the rest of the team. By the end of that meeting, we have agreed on the main objectives of the lesson, and we have a good sense of where we want to go with it.
Step 2: The Storytelling Circle
The next step is to form a Storytelling Circle. Alongsider mentors (some who were "little brothers or sisters" formerly) are central to this storytelling gathering. The non-Cambodians take a back-seat role. It’s not that Westerners can’t contribute, but the Cambodians know best what story elements are the most authentic and compelling in their own culture.
All of the comics are based on real-life experiences of poverty and struggle shared by the young people at this Storytelling Circle. Over the course of two or three hours, stories and lessons are crafted into engaging plots that can be told visually in just a few pages.
We make sure the story incorporates essential storytelling techniques such as conflict, drama, character development and clear messaging.
Step 3: The Artwork
Once the rough story is outlined on a whiteboard, Puthida, an accomplished artist herself, takes a photo of what has been imagined by the group. She then hand-draws, using electronic paper and pen, a detailed storyboard of the 10 pages for the comic.
Finally, the story is ready for the artist, a Cambodian pastor named Met Sokha. Puthida meets with Pastor Sokha and goes through each page to make sure he understands the story and her drawings and notes.
Step 4: The Lesson Components
For the next week or so, while Pastor Sokha hand-paints each page (typically one day per page), Hitomi and Puthida develop relevant questions that the Alongsider mentors can discuss with their little brothers and sisters after reading the story. They also create one or two practical action steps to apply the lesson. These are essential, so that the lesson doesn't just remain as head knowledge.
1) with your Alongsider mentor write one short term goal and identify what you will need to sacrifice in order to attain it (in Perseverance, Lesson #10), or
2) list five adults who you can trust and who you will talk with if you are ever touched in an inappropriate way (in Good Touch/Bad Touch, Lesson #3).
Step 5: Design, Test Test Test and Print
When the artwork comes back from Pastor Sokha each page is carefully scanned in and edited using Adobe InDesign. Speech bubbles and story boxes are added and the various components laid out for printing.
The draft comic is now ready for testing and correcting. Puthida takes the comic out and about to test with neighborhood children. We also test it with a small selection of Alongsider mentors and a couple of proofreaders. Any errors will hopefully be picked up at this stage, but we are mostly checking that the main message and story is easily understood.
When everything is checked and signed off, we work with a local printer to print the comic. All going well, we have the comics, printed and delivered to us two weeks later, ready for training and distribution!
These comics are gaining a following. Other organizations are taking notice. One NGO reprinted 10,000 copies for distribution in schools and we're supplying free copies to various schools, churches and orphanages.
And of course, the curriculum is now being translated back into English, as well as developed and contextualized locally in other countries such as India and Indonesia.
All this effort, prayer and hard work is for one purpose: the transformation of young lives. So, join us in praying that the Spirit of God will work in and through us, and these comics, as they find their way into eager hands across Asia.